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East Jerusalem

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Netanyahu, Obama and the UN

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is very, very cross about last Friday’s United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the creation of illegal Jewish settlements all over the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

He called in the ambassadors of all the Western countries that voted for the resolution to tell them off: Britain, France, Spain, even New Zealand. He also had the US ambassador on the carpet, although Washington merely abstained in the Security Council vote. But, Netanyahu said, Donald Trump’s incoming administration has promised to fight “an all-out war” against the resolution.

The resolution is only words, of course, but they are words that have not found their way into any UN Security Council resolution since 1979, because the United States always used its veto to kill any resolution that contained them. Words that describe the settlements as having “no legal validity” and constituting a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”

This is a restatement of a truth that was once almost universally accepted even in Israel. When Israel’s astonishing victory in the 1967 war put the entire remaining area that had been granted to the Palestinians by the UN partition agreement of 1948 under Israeli control, most Israelis initially saw it as an opportunity for peace.

Israel now had a powerful bargaining card. If the Arabs wanted their lost territories back, they would have to sign peace treaties with Israel – and probably agree to demilitarise those territories into the bargain.

To a generation of Israelis who had lived in permanent, existential fear of losing a war, that looked like a good bargain. But even then a minority of Israelis wanted to keep the conquered territories forever and repopulate them with Jewish settlers.

Some of these expansionists were motivated by religion, others by security concerns, but they all understood that the way to thwart any give-away of these territories was to fill them with Jewish settlers.

The settler movement began slowly: 15 years after the conquest there were still only 100,000 Jews living in the occupied territories, but the number had doubled to 200,000 by 1990, and doubled again to 400,000 by 2002. It is now at least 600,000, and may be as high as 750,000.

If the settler population continues to grow at the current rate, there could be as many as a million Jews in the occupied territories by 2030. At that point, the long-term prospect of a Jewish majority heaves above the horizon. And that is what the current confrontation between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is really about.

Netanyahu avoids any actual peace talks with the Palestinians because a peace deal (if it could be achieved) would mean the end of the settlement project. He can’t say that out loud, of course, but it is the openly expressed view of the settler leaders whose support has been essential to Netanyahu’s various coalition governments.

This is why Netanyahu has to lie all the time, and it drives Obama crazy. In a conversation caught on an open mike in 2011, France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy told Obama: “I can’t stand him (Netanyahu). He’s a liar.” And Obama replied, “You’re tired of him? What about me? I have to deal with him every day.”

But Obama’s decision to abstain on the Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlement policy in the Palestinian occupied territories was not just a childish last slap at Netanyahu. Obama has a fundamentally different view of what constitutes long-term security for Israel – one that he shares with most other outside observers, but a shrinking proportion of Israelis.

Long-term does mean long-term. It cannot be assumed that Arab states will always be relatively poor and incompetently led, and that Israel will always be the unchallengeable military superpower of the region. So, in the view of Obama and other outsiders, Israel’s long-term security still depends on making a fair and lasting peace with its Arab neighbours – including the Palestinians.

The settlements fatally undermine the prospects for such a deal. For a growing number of Israelis, that is irrelevant, because they have a fundamentally demonic view of the Arabs and do not believe that a lasting peace with them is possible. In which case, of course, Israel might as well grab all of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Jewish settlements are indeed illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and there is not a single government outside Israel that believes they are legitimate. But the recent Security Council resolution will have no effect on Israeli policy, nor will the state of Israel suffer grave consequences as a result.

President-elect Donald Trump will stop any further such resolutions with the US veto, although he is unlikely to be able to undo this one. And we will all have to wait a long time to know whether it is the perspective of Netanyahu and Trump, or that of Obama and almost all other world leaders, that ultimately defines Israel’s future.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7, 8 and 15. (“Some…750,000”; and “The Jewish…result”)

Dead, Dead, Dead: The Two State Solution

5 December 2012

Dead, Dead, Dead: The Middle East “Peace Process”

By Gwynne Dyer

It’s as if the world’s leaders were earnestly warning us that global warming will cause the extinction of the dinosaurs. They’ve actually been dead for a long time already. So has the Middle East “peace process”.

As soon as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will build 3,000 homes on “East One” (E-1), the last piece of land connecting East Jerusalem with the West Bank that is not already covered with Jewish settlements, the ritual condemnations started to flow. Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” and others went a lot further.

The British minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, warned that “the settlements plan…has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two-state solution.” France called in the Israeli ambassador and told him that “settlements are illegal under international law…and constitute an obstacle to a fair peace based on a two-state solution.”

Even the Australian government summoned the Israeli ambassador and told him that Israeli plans to build on the land in question “threaten the viability of a two-state solution.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the plan would be “an almost fatal blow” to the two-state solution, as if it were still alive. And Netanyahu, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t actually do anything, just stone-walled and smiled.

In almost all the media coverage, the Israeli announcement is explained as an angry response for the United Nations General Assembly’s vote last month to grant the Palestinian Authority permanent observer status at the UN, which is tantamount to recognising Palestine as an independent state. As if Netanyahu were an impulsive man who had just lost his temper, not a wily strategist who thinks long-term.

Building in the “E-1” area, which covers most of the space between the Jewish settlements that ring East Jerusalem and the huge Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the Palestinian West Bank, is definitely a game-changer. It effectively separates the West Bank from East Jerusalem, the city that the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. It also almost cuts the West Bank in two. But it’s not a new idea.

The Israeli government declared its intention to build on this land fourteen years ago, when Netanyahu was prime minister for the first time. The plan was frozen in response to outraged protests from practically all of Israel’s allies, who had invested a great deal of political capital in the two-state solution. But it was never abandoned.

Successive US Presidents were assured by various Israeli governments that construction would not proceed there, but most of those governments went on preparing for the day when a pretext to break the freeze would present itself. The land is still deserted today, but there are street lights, electric cables and water mains.

Now a pretext has arisen, even if the UN General Assembly’s recognition of a Palestinian state makes little practical difference. Netanyahu has seized the opportunity, as he undoubtedly always planned to. And you can’t kill the “two-state solution.” To Netanyahu’s considerable satisfaction, it is already dead.

Creating two independent states, Israeli and Palestinian, separated by the “green line” that was Israel’s border until it conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, was the goal of the 1993 Oslo Accords. That’s what the “peace process” was all about, but it was really doomed when Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister signed the Oslo deal, was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fanatic in 1995.

Netanyahu was elected prime minister after Rabin’s death, and spent the next three years stalling on the transfers of land and political authority to the Palestinian Authority that were required under the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, he supported a vastly expanded programme of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, although it was obvious that this would ultimately make a Palestinian state impossible.

After a two-year interval when the Labour Party under Ehud Barak formed a government and seriously pursued a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, the Israeli right recovered power in 2001 and has relentlessly pursued project of settling Jews on Palestinian territory ever since.

The number of Jews living in the West Bank has doubled in the past twelve years, and they now account for one-fifth of the population there. Jewish settlements, roads reserved for Jewish settlers, and Israeli military bases and reservations now cover 40 percent of the West Bank’s territory. But to retain US support, Netanyahu still has to pretend that he is really interested in a two-state solution.

That’s why he had to wait for the right excuse before building on “E-1” and sealing East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. But he always intended to kill off the “peace process,” and in practice he succeeded long ago.

Why do his Western allies in the United States and elsewhere put up with this fraud? Because they cannot think of anything else to do.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 7 and 12. (“Even…smiled”; “Successive…mains”; and “After…since”)

 

 

The Next Arab-Israeli War

24 January 2011

The Next Arab-Israeli War

By Gwynne Dyer

It’s time to think about the nature of the next Arab-Israeli war. The release by the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera of 16,000 leaked Palestinian documents covering the past ten years of peace negotiations has driven a stake through the heart of the already moribund “peace process,” and we hear constant warnings that when the hope of a peace settlement is finally extinguished, the next step is a return to war. So what would that war be like?

Okay, back up a bit. What the leaked documents show is that the Palestinian negotiators were willing to make huge concessions on territory and other issues in return for Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state. They were well-meaning people playing a very bad hand as best they could, but the publication of these documents will destroy them politically.

The spirit in which they approached the talks is exemplified in the first document in the trove, a memo on Palestinian negotiating strategy dated September 1999. It urges the negotiators to heed the advice of the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find that you get what you need.”

According to the documents, in the past three years the Palestinians have offered to accept all of Israel’s illegal settlements around Jerusalem except one (Har Homa) as permanent parts of the Jewish state. Israel annexed all of East Jerusalem after it conquered it in the 1967 war, but international law forbids that and no other country sees the annexation as legal.

The negotiators also offered to restrict the “right of return” of the millions of Palestinians descended from those who were driven from their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 to a mere 100,000 returnees over ten years. They even offered to put the most sacred site in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, under the control of a joint committee. (It is currently administered by an Islamic foundation.)

Even these concessions were not enough to persuade the Israelis to accept a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank (including those parts of East Jerusalem still inhabited by Palestinians) and the Gaza Strip. They were enough, however, to make the negotiators reviled in almost every Palestinian home if they were ever revealed – and now they have been.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and his predecessor Ahmed Qureia were just pragmatic men trying to cut the best deal possible in very difficult circumstances. They might even have been able to sell these concessions to the Palestinian people, if they had come as part of a comprehensive settlement leading to the end of the Israeli occupation and an independent Palestinian state.

But in fact they got nothing for their concessions. The Israelis simply pocketed them and demanded more. Now that the details are known – leaked, almost certainly, by frustrated members of the Negotiation Support Unit that provided technical and legal backup for the Palestinian negotiators – Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues are finished.

Even the Palestinian Authority itself, and the whole concept of an independent state for Palestinians in a fraction of pre-partition Palestine, may not survive this blow. Fatah, the faction that effectively rules the parts of the West Bank not yet taken for Israeli settlements, is well past its sell-by date as a national liberation movement, and may lose control of the area to the Islamist Hamas movement before we are very much older.

Hamas, which already controls the Gaza Strip, rejects negotiations with Israel and the whole notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a two-state future. We are continually told by various pundits that these developments can only lead to war, and they are probably right – but what kind of war?

It would certainly not be like the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, in which regular armies fought stand-up battles with lots of heavy weapons. Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the countries that fought those wars on behalf of the Arabs, have long since abandoned the goal of matching Israeli military power. They don’t even buy the right kind of weapons, in the right amounts, to stand a chance against Israel on the battlefield.

We will doubtless see more Israeli punishment attacks in which a hundred Palestinians or Lebanese die for every Israeli, like the “wars” against Lebanon in 2006 and in the Gaza Strip in 2008-09. We may well see a “third intifada,” another popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, probably accompanied by terrorist attacks in Israel itself. But we have seen all this before. It’s nothing to get excited about.

In the long run, we may see some Arab states start working on nuclear weapons, to create some balance of forces between the two sides, but probably not for a while yet. In the meantime, the future for the Middle East is not mass destruction, but an unending series of Israeli military strikes that kill in the hundreds or thousands, not in the millions. Plus despair, of course.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 8. (“Mahmoud…finished”)

Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, “Climate Wars”, is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.

Olmert: Dreaming in Technicolour

13 April 2006

Olmert: Dreaming in Technicolour

By Gwynne Dyer

“We have a very tight timetable [for drawing Israel’s final borders], because we seek the support of the US administration and President Bush. It has to be done by November 2008,” said Yoram Turbowicz in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper on 11 April. Turbowicz, who will be chief of staff to Ehud Olmert when the latter takes over as prime minister of Israel’s new government, was only saying publicly what most members of the Kadima Party think in private, but it’s interesting how foolish it looks when you see it in cold print.

Kadima was created only months ago by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, now in a coma due to a massive stroke, to seize control of the centre of Israeli politics and impose a permanent “peace” settlement on the Palestinians. In Sharon’s vision, Israel would decide which parts of the occupied territories to keep and draw the new borders unilaterally, marking them out with the huge security fences that are currently carving their way through the West Bank — and the Bush administration would ratify the outcome and get the rest of the world to accept it.

Kadima emerged as the biggest party in last month’s election, and Sharon’s successor Olmert, who will lead the new coalition government once the usual deals are struck, imagines that he can then carry out Sharon’s grand plan. After all, he has President Bush’s letter of last year to Sharon that drastically changed US policy, declaring that Israel could not be expected to return to its pre-1967 borders “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers.” Since the United States is the world’s sole superpower, surely it can make everybody else accept that outcome too. Just get it all done in the next 32 months, as Yoram Turbowicz pointed out, before Mr Bush leaves office at the end of 2008.

One of Turbowicz’s assumptions is dead right: Israel cannot expect to have Washington’s support for expanding its borders in such a dramatic way from any subsequent administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

No previous administration in Washington would have backed such a project either. The Bush administration is an aberration, both in its contempt for international law and in the degree to which it sees American national interests and the desires of the current Israeli government as identical.

So the deadline is real.

But Turbowicz is dead wrong in assuming that US support will be enough to make the change in Israel’s borders legal, permanent, and widely accepted. The world does not work like that, and even if America’s power were as great as Olmert seems to think it is, Washington could not make other countries accept such a gross breach of international law.

The new international law, written into the United Nations Charter, states that territorial changes imposed by force will not be recognised by UN members. Full stop. It’s about taking the profit out of war and thereby reducing the temptation to go to war, and over sixty years it is the one UN rule that has almost never been broken. Indonesia conquered East Timor and held it for a quarter century, for example, but nobody ever recognised East Timor’s annexation as legal and finally Indonesia had to leave.

Israel conquered East Jerusalem (together with the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights) in the Six-Day War of 1967, and immediately proclaimed that a unified Jerusalem (including Arab East Jerusalem) was its new capital forever more. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and all the other government departments moved up from Tel Aviv, and since 1967 Israeli domestic law has treated East Jerusalem as just another part of Israel. But no foreign government recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem as legal, and no foreign embassies moved up from Tel Aviv. Not even the US embassy.

Go on the website of the US embassy in Tel Aviv, and you read that “the information contained in this website applies specifically to American citizens residing in or traveling through the Tel Aviv Consular District (which is comprised of “greenline” Israel [that is, the country within its pre-1967 borders]; residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza should visit http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/.” The US State Department knows the law, and it applies it.

It is possible (though unlikely) that the Bush administration might yet browbeat the State Department into “recognising” not only Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem but the far greater expansion of Israel’s borders that Olmert now has in mind. (Unlikely, because the Iraq fiasco has already severely eroded the White House’s ability to force its views on the professionals at State.) But it is simply inconceivable that President Bush could persuade other countries to accept such a gross violation of international law.

He cannot deliver; the deadline is meaningless. Olmert’s government can build walls, dig ditches, move settlers around, proclaim that Israel’s eternal borders are now some distance to the east of where they were last week, maybe even get the Bush administration to agree to the change, but none of it will have any legal force. The whole exercise will take up enormous amounts of time, effort and newsprint over the next few years, but it is in the end only a charade.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“One of…real”; and “Go on…applies it”)